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Review of 'The Woman With The Map' - Jan Casey

February 1941 The world is at war and Joyce Cooper is doing her bit for the war effort. A proud member of the Civil Defence, it is her job to assist the people of Notting Hill when the bombs begin to fall. But as the Blitz takes hold of London, Joyce is called upon to plot the devastation that follows in its wake. Night after night she must stand before her map and mark the trail of loss and suffering inflicted upon the homes, families and businesses she knows so well.

February 1974 Decades later from her basement flat Joyce watches the world go by above her head. This is her haven; the home she has created for herself having had so much taken from her in the war. But now the council is tearing down her block of flats and she's being forced to move. Could this chance to start over allow Joyce to let go of the past and step back into her life?

An emotional and compelling historical fiction novel perfect for fans of Fiona Valpy, Mandy Robotham and Catherine Hokin.

Set in World War Two, this book explores an area of service that isn't often written about in fiction, perhaps because it is distinctly less glamorous than the frontline forces. Joyce works for the Civil Response Unit, plotting the bombs, V1s and V2s that fall on London. It may not be glamorous, but her work is important.

Over the course of the novel, Joyce loses everything and it is easy to see why she has cut herself off from society by the time we meet her again in the 1970s. However, whilst I realise the scale of the destruction during World War Two, I did wonder how common her experiences were - were they exaggerated for the purposes of plot or was this scale of loss not unusual? I'd be interested to know the answer. What the book does really well is bring that sense of wholesale devastation down to a personal level and I like that the focus is more on the long-term impact of some of those experiences, rather than the more immediate ones. It gives a different slant to the plot and I think it works well.

In many ways I was more interested in Joyce as an older lady who had been shaped by her wartime experiences. I felt desperately sorry for her as she struggled to cope with the various overtures of friendship that were made and it made me think about the number of people in real life who would have suffered in similar ways and not been able to access the help they clearly needed. It made me very grateful that we are now more open to the idea of PTSD and mental health issues. Reading it at this particular time was made more poignant by the start of the war in Ukraine because it brought home the fact that although the book is set eighty years ago, the experiences of Joyce and her family are still heartbreakingly relevant today for so many people. It was impossible to read it without being aware of this fact and whilst in some ways it took away from my enjoyment of it as a work of fiction, the compensation for this was that it felt far more pertinent than it might otherwise have done.

I'd be interested to know whether a sequel is planned, as I felt that although the plot was concluded, there was enough left open to come back to Joyce's story and watch her as she takes her first tentative steps back into the world, with the help of the people who so blatantly care about her well-being.

Jan Casey's novels, like her first - The Women of Waterloo Bridge - explore the themes of how ordinary people are affected by extraordinary events during any period in history, including the present. Jan is fascinated with the courage, adaptability and resilience that people rise to in times of adversity and for which they do not expect pay, praise or commendation. Jan is also interested in writing about the similarities as opposed to the differences amongst people and the ways in which experiences and emotions bind humans together.

Jan was born in London but spent her childhood in Southern California. She was a teacher of English and Drama for many years and is now a Learning Supervisor at a college of further education.

When she is not working or writing, Jan enjoys yoga, swimming, cooking, walking, reading and spending time with her grandchildren.

Before becoming a published author, Jan had short stories and flash fictions published.

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